IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Facing COVID crisis, Tennessee gov issues misguided mask order

One Tennessee doctor asked, "How do you sign an emergency order that is undoing actions to protect us from that emergency?" What a good question.


By every relevant metric, the COVID crisis in Tennessee is intensifying. Infections, hospitalizations, and fatalities are on the rise in the Volunteer State, where only about 40% of the population is fully vaccinated, and the Tennessee National Guard has been deployed to help bolster increasingly overwhelmed hospitals.

Dr. Lisa Piercy from the Tennessee Department of Health explained yesterday that the state's hospital network is facing "capacity concerns on both the pediatric side as well as the adult side." As child hospitalizations grow, the timing could be better: students are starting to head back to classrooms as infections climb.

And it was against this backdrop that Tennessee's Republican governor took action -- which is to say, the wrong kind action. The New York Times reported:

As the Delta variant fuels a new coronavirus wave, particularly in areas with underwhelming vaccination rates, Tennessee on Monday became the latest state where a governor has undermined efforts by local school districts to require students to wear masks as the new school year approaches. Gov. Bill Lee, a Republican, signed an executive order on Monday essentially gutting any school district's effort to require its students to wear masks.

The article added that according to Lee's new policy, a student's parent or guardian "shall have the right to opt out of any order or requirement" that the student "wear a face covering" at school, on school buses, or at school functions.

The asymmetry was jarring, even by 2021 standards. On the one hand, Tennessee's National Guard has been deployed because the state's hospitals are facing a severe crunch, in part because of kids infected with COVID-19. On the other hand, on the same day, Tennessee's governor issued an order to undermine local efforts to curtail the spread of the virus in schools.

Ordinarily, Americans expect to see governors issue emergency orders to respond to an emergency. Bill Lee turned to an emergency order to undermine the response to an emergency.

Or as Dr. Jason Yaun, associate professor in the Department of Pediatrics in the College of Medicine at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, put it, "I am so angry I am shaking. How do you sign an emergency order that is undoing actions to protect us from that emergency?"

That need not be a rhetorical question.